Are Welsh women getting enough support to stay out of prison?
The harsh reality for Welsh women in the criminal justice system is that they are too far away from their families – with zero women’s prisons in Wales – and they don’t always have accommodation when they’re released.
The Senedd’s Equality and Social Justice Committee heard directly from women in the criminal justice system.
Let’s take a closer look at the problems they face.
Are shorter sentence delivering for Welsh women and our communities?
Did you know that 56.1% of women serving a prison sentence reoffend within a year?
That rises to 70.7% for women released after serving sentences of less than 12 months.
What’s leading to high reoffending rates? Short prison sentences, some lasting as little as a week, and poor support.
“I feel like we, as prisoners should be given more services … Many a time I think to myself, why can’t I go back? I was safe in there [prison], I had people around me, my mental health was better.” – Focus group member
What could be done?
The proposed Residential Women’s Centre in Swansea, would be an alternative to sending women to prison, and would house 48 women per year, who would have otherwise been given a prison sentence of 12 months or less.
The Committee’s sought further clarity on how the Centre, if approved, will work in practice.
Devastating impact on families
Did you know that there are no prisons for women in Wales?
Welsh women have to serve their sentences in England – 100 miles away from their home, on average. The effects of this have been devastating on families, especially children. Challenges include:
- the distance between mothers and their children
- travel costs
- time pressures on carers
- and the communication options available.
‘Purple visits’, a type of video call, were designed to help women and their families stay connected during the pandemic, but aren’t always successful.
“It was awful. The signal was terrible, and it would freeze a lot. It would cause a lot of the girls distress. Some of them wanted to see their children and it wouldn’t connect.” – Focus group member
What could be done?
Welsh Government should evaluate the ‘Visiting Mum’ project, says the Committee, which provides support to children in Wales to visit their mothers in prison. Contributors to the Committee’s inquiry praised the project, sharing how it helped to rebuild family relationships.
Lack of safe accommodation
Many women are given poor housing options when they’re released from prison.
“Being thrown to the sharks” is how one woman described her experience. Many women shared their anxieties about their living arrangements, especially those who are vulnerable.
The Committee heard that the women would either be homeless or placed in unsuitable accommodation on release, including places where they could be living with perpetrators of abuse/abusers.
“I knew a girl who came into prison and would want a bigger sentence because she was living on the streets.
She ended up committing suicide. Some staff at the prison left in disgust. That girl shouldn’t have gone to prison – she needed mental health support.” – Focus group member
What could be done?
More action is needed to make sure that women are not placed in dangerous situations or where they may be at risk of reoffending. To ensure women have suitable accommodation, the Committee calls on the Welsh Government to work with partners, to improve the options available.
The Equality and Social Justice Committee wants women's justice to be devolved
Justice and prisons come under the responsibilities of Westminster and the UK Government
For Wales to make its own decisions, the Committee calls for responsibility for women in the criminal justice system to be devolved. So, the Welsh Government can:
- reduce the number of Welsh women in prison
- introduce effective sentencing
- help to rehabilitate women.
The Senedd’s Citizen Engagement Team work with people and organisations throughout Wales. They hear people’s lived experiences on issues affecting them.
Visits and focus groups with Welsh women, who had different experiences of the criminal justice system, were carried out by the team for this inquiry.
The focus groups included, but were not limited to:
- women currently imprisoned and those since released
- repeat offenders
- women with substance misuse issues
- women who were serving or had served sentences of different lengths.
They shared their honest experiences with the Committee, which contributed to the report.